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Chinese Medicine Glossary

Here is a quick and concise guide to Chinese Medicine’s most common terms:


A form of treatment that uses micro-fine needles inserted in the skin at strategic, low-impedance points on the body and to various depths.

It likely triggers a multi-system response, modulating the nerves, hormones and stimulating an increase in blood flow and the release of chemicals that boost and strengthen the body’s own ability to heal itself.


Acupressure is a treatment method similar to acupuncture, and utilizes acupoints. However the process of applying acupressure does not involve fine needles and penetration, and the practitioner only apply pressure to the acupoint with either fingers, knuckles or tools.

This treatment method is sometimes used on patients that are afraid of needles, or in situations where needles are inappropriate. Additionally, it is also a convenient and rapid way to treat certain acute symptoms.

Ah-Shi Point

Ah-Shi point, also known as Ahshi or Ashi point, refers to a tender or sensitive point on the body that is not part of the regular acupuncture meridian system. The term “Ah-Shi” translates to “Oh yes” or “That’s it” in Chinese, indicating that these points are often identified by the patient’s response to palpation or pressure. Aside from treatment purposes, TCM practitioners may sometimes use Ah-Shi points as part of their diagnostic approach, sometimes in auricular acupuncture or reflexology.

Auricular Acupuncture

Also known as ear acupuncture or auriculotherapy, it is a form of acupuncture that focuses on stimulating specific points on the ear to promote healing effects in certain parts of the body. It is based on the concept that the ear represents a microsystem of the entire body, with each point on the ear corresponding to a specific organ, body part, or function.

Although it has acupuncture in the name, auricular acupuncture often does not involve needles. Cowherb seeds are often applied onto the acupoint, held in place with plasters so that the stimulation can be applied for a few hours, or even up to a day.


The Bladder is considered one of the six Fu organs which is not only an anatomical organ but also a functional system with broader implications in TCM theory. In TCM, the bladder works closely with the Kidneys to regulate fluid metabolism, maintain proper water balance, and support the elimination of waste from the body; it is also involved in the distribution of Qi (energy) throughout the body.


A broad term used to describe the physical blood in the body that moistens the muscles, tissues, skin and hair, as well as nourishes the cells and organs. It’s usually used in broader terms than in Western medicine.


See : “Meridians and Collaterals”

Chong Mai

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Chong Mai, also known as the Penetrating Vessel or the Thrusting Channel, is one of the Eight Extraordinary Meridians. It is considered a Yin meridian and is closely related to the Ren Mai (Conception Vessel). The Chong Mai is responsible for regulating the flow of Qi and blood throughout the body and is associated with the reproductive system, menstruation, and fertility. It plays a crucial role in nourishing and balancing the body’s Yin and Yang energies. Imbalances in the Chong Mai can lead to various gynecological and reproductive issues.


In TCM, “cold” refers to a condition characterized by a lack of warmth in the body. It can be external (caused by cold environments) or internal (deficiency of Yang energy). Symptoms include chills, aversion to cold, pale complexion, fatigue, and cold limbs. Treatment aims to warm and invigorate the body using warming herbs, moxibustion, and warming foods to restore balance between Yin and Yang energies.

Additionally, “cold” can also be used to describe the nature of a certain medicine, in which “cold” herbs are often used to treat “hot” symptoms.


A unit of measurement in TCM that does not have an absolute length. For example, the length of the forearm can be divided into 12 “Cun”, while the length of the leg would be 19 + 16 “Cun”. This measurement of Cun allows TCM practitioners to locate acupuncture points according to a standardized while individualized method.

For the average person and simple acupoints, sometimes 1 “Cun” would be equivalent to one thumb width.

In pulse diagnosis, “Cun” is also the first part of a pulse diagnosis. The pulse is to be detected at three parts along the wrist – Cun, Guan, Chi.


A treatment involving suction in order to stimulate blood flow to the surface of the skin using a vacuum created inside either a warm glass or a ceramic, plastic, or bamboo cup.

Used to treat a wide variety of conditions, it helps to activate the lymphatic system, promote blood circulation and aid deep tissue repair. It is particularly effective at easing conditions that create muscle aches and pains.


An imbalance arising from having excessive fluids/water in the body and a temporary inability of the body to remove it.

Some common symptoms include abdominal bloating, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, lack of thirst, feeling of heaviness, and stiff, aching or sore joints.

Dai mai

Also known as the Belt Vessel or Girdle Vessel, encircles the waist area like a belt and is considered a pathway that connects the other meridians. It helps to regulate the ascending and descending movements of Qi and assists in maintaining the balance between the upper and lower body.


See : “Herbal Decoctions”


“Deficiency” refers to a state of imbalance or insufficiency in various aspects of the body, such as Yin, Yang, Qi etc. Deficiency can occur in various organs or systems and may be categorized as Qi deficiency, Yin deficiency, or Yang deficiency.

Dietary Therapy

The use of specific foods and dietary supplements, and even to integrate certain medicine into daily recipes to promote health and treat illnesses according to TCM theories and principles.


The other side of dampness (although they can coexist). An imbalance due to a form of overheating that consumes the body. It impairs the body fluids, often impacting the Lungs.

Some common symptoms and clinical manifestations include dry nose, mouth, throat, dry or cracked skin, dry cough, chest pain etc.

Du Mai

Also known as the Governing Vessel or the Governor Channel, is one of the Eight Extraordinary Meridians. It is an important pathway that runs along the midline of the body, starting from the perineum and extending up the spine to the head. It is considered the “Sea of Yang Meridians” and is associated with the Yang energy of the body, responsible for regulating the flow of Yang Qi and governs all the Yang meridians.

Eight Principles

The eight principles of TCM are Yin and Yang, Exterior and Interior, Cold and Heat, and Deficiency and Excess. Yin and Yang represent the opposing yet interconnected forces in the body, while Exterior and Interior differentiate between superficial and deep conditions. Cold and Heat describe the quality of symptoms, and Deficiency and Excess relate to the body’s energy levels. These principles help TCM practitioners analyze patterns and imbalances within the body, leading to personalized treatments aimed at restoring harmony and promoting well-being.


The concept of “Essence” refers to a fundamental substance that is considered to be the basis of life and health. Essence, also known as “Jing,” is believed to be inherited from one’s parents and stored in the kidneys. It is seen as a precious resource that provides the foundation for growth, development, and reproduction. In adult stages, essence is also considered essential for vitality, strength, and longevity.


The concept of “Excess” refers to a state of imbalance or pathological accumulation of certain substances or energies in the body. It is seen as an abnormal condition where there is an excessive amount of a particular factor, such as heat, cold, Yin, Yang, etc. Excess conditions can arise from factors like poor diet, emotional stress, environmental influences, or lifestyle habits.

External (pathogens, Diseaes, Wind, etc)

The concept of “External” refers to factors or influences that come from outside the body and affect its health. These external factors are typically categorized into six pathogenic factors: Wind, Cold, Heat, Dampness, Dryness, and Summer Heat. These pathogenic factors invade the body and disrupt its balance, leading to various illnesses and symptoms.

“External” can also be used to describe the nature of the disease. External diseases are usually milder, with symptoms mainly affecting the external functions, like coughing, breathing, sweating, etc.

Extraordinary Meridians / Extra Meridians

Eight extra meridians in addition to the regular meridians that complements the meridian system. Unlike the regular meridians, which primarily circulate Qi and Blood, the eight extraordinary meridians have different function and roles in regulating the body’s overall energetic balance. They are often used in TCM treatments as a balance and support along the regular meridians.

The eight extra meridians are Du Mai, Ren Mervaai, Chong Mai, Dai Mai, Yang Qiao Mai, Yin Qiao Mai, Yang Wei Mai, Yin Wei Mai.


“Fire” refers to a pathological condition characterized by excessive heat and hyperactivity within the body. Fire can manifest as symptoms such as fever, inflammation, redness, and agitation. It is associated with various conditions, including infections, inflammations, or imbalances in Yin or Yang.

Fire Cupping

See ¨Cupping¨

Five Elements

A theory of relationships developed from the observation of nature.

It organises and classifies apparently related phenomena into five main categories: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water.

Each group is defined by unique characteristics and seemingly limitless correlations. They interact with each other in a relationship of mutual generation and control aimed at preserving balance within the system.


See “Zang-Fu Organs or Viscera”


Aside from being an important organ responsible for storing and excreting bile to aid digestion, it is also associated with the Wood element and is considered to be closely related to decision-making, courage, creativity, and the ability to take action in TCM theories.


Gua sha is a traditional therapeutic technique used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to promote blood circulation and relieve stagnation in the body. It involves using a smooth-edged tool, often made of jade or horn, to apply gentle scraping or rubbing strokes on the skin’s surface. It is commonly used to address pain, muscle tension, and respiratory issues.


“Harmonizing” refers to the concept of restoring balance and harmony within the body’s systems and energies. TCM views health as a state of balance between Yin and Yang, the body’s vital energies (Qi), and the organ systems. Harmonizing in TCM involves identifying and addressing the underlying causes of disharmony, which may include factors such as emotional stress, diet, lifestyle, and environmental influences.


Aside from physical functions, the heart also plays a crucial role in mental and emotional well-being and is associated with the Fire element. It is considered the residence of the mind and governs consciousness, emotions, and cognitive functions. It is believed to be connected to joy and houses the Shen, which represents the spirit. Imbalances in the heart can manifest as symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, palpitations, and memory issues.


“Heat” refers to a pathological condition characterized by an excess of heat in the body. Heat can manifest as symptoms such as fever, inflammation, redness, irritability, and thirst. It is often associated with conditions related to inflammation, infections, and imbalances in the Yin and Yang.


The usage of various herbs in Chinese Medicine to treat diseases, aiming to the bring balance back into the human body according to Chinese Medicine theories. Each individual herb has its own use and properties, and when used in a complex formula, it provides a comprehensive effect to tackle the root, symptoms, and prognosis of disease all at once while neutralizing side effects as well as enhancing positive properties. Each formula is tailored to a specific syndrome of a specific patient, therefore it is essential that herbal prescriptions should only be taken from professionals.

Herbal medicines used in Chinese Medicine are mostly plant and mineral-based, although some herbs prescribed in China may be sourced from animal origin (these are not used in our clinic).


Holistic is the inherent approach in TCM. It is about considering the interconnectedness of the body throughout different levels. For example, the body, mind and spirit are connected; the five organs are connected; the human body and the surrounding environment are connected. It is the aim of TCM to look at a problem in a holistic manner, and to treat the roots, symptoms and possible prognosis all at once. The holistic approach also extends to how treatment is delivered in TCM. Aside from traditional concoctions, one can also receive comprehensive treatment involving acupuncture, cupping, exercises, food diet changes and many other aspects.

Herbal Decotions

Herbal decoctions are the most traditional form of medicine used in TCM. It is made from a selection of medicine herbs according to the individual syndrome and symptoms of each specific patient, which will then be boiled and drained for consumption. The temperature, duration and procedures of preparing decoctions varies for different diseases and situations, and can affect the results greatly.


Immunomodulation refers to the regulation and enhancement of the body’s immune system. TCM recognizes that a balanced and properly functioning immune system is essential for maintaining overall health and preventing illness, and that all diseases are results of varying degrees of deficiencies in the immune system.

Internal Pathogens

The concept of “Internal” refers to factors or influences that originate from within the body, or that a certain pathogen invades a deeper and more complex aspect of the body. Similar to “External”, internal factors can also be categorized into Wind, Cold, Heat, Dampness, and Dryness.

Similarly, “Internal” can also be used to describe the nature of a disease, which imply that “Internal” diseases are usually more severe, with symptoms that are more related to critical organ functions, like edema, heart rate problems, shortness of breath, etc.

Jade Screen

A less commonly used term referring to the immune system in TCM theory. There is a commonly used formula for boosting the immune system called “Jade Screen Powder”.


Aside from being responsible for physical functions, the kidney is a vital organ associated with the Water element and is considered the foundation of the Yin and Yang. It plays a fundamental role in regulating and storing essential substances such as Qi, Jing (essence), and body fluids. The kidney also governs growth, development, reproduction, and the aging process. It is also associated with the bones, teeth, and the health of the urinary and reproductive systems. Imbalances in the kidney can manifest as symptoms such as fatigue, weak knees and lower back, fertility issues, and changes in urinary function.

Large Intestines

Aside from being  responsible for the final stages of digestion, absorption of water, and the formation and elimination of feces, the large intestine is closely connected to the lungs and is believed to be involved in maintaining the body’s fluid balance. In TCM, imbalances in the large intestine can manifest as symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and even breathing problems.


Aside from physical functions, the liver is a vital organ associated with the Wood element and plays a significant role in regulating the flow of Qi (vital energy) and blood throughout the body. It is responsible for storing blood, ensuring smooth circulation, and maintaining the body’s overall balance. The liver is closely connected to emotions and is believed to be the organ most affected by stress and emotional imbalances. In TCM, imbalances in the liver can manifest as symptoms such as irritability, mood swings, menstrual irregularities, and digestive issues.


Aside from respiratory functions, the lungs are associated with the Metal element and play a crucial role in respiration and the circulation of Qi (vital energy) and Wei Qi (defensive energy). The lungs are responsible for inhaling fresh air and distributing Qi throughout the body. They are also closely connected to the skin and are involved in regulating moisture and opening and closing pores. In TCM, the lungs are associated with the emotions of sadness and grief. Imbalances in the lungs can manifest as symptoms such as cough, asthma, shortness of breath, and skin disorders.

Meridians and Collaterals

A system of subtle pathways, with no currently proven anatomical structure, that is thought to run throughout the body.

They facilitate a constant flow of information providing a connection between organ systems and the inner and outer parts of the body. Acupoints lie on meridians.

There are 12 primary conduits or meridians and 2 central ones, named after specific Zang Fu organ systems they relate and connect to.


The method of treating various diseases (usually cold or pain related) by burning dried herbs (usually mugwort) near or on specific points on the body.


Referring to TCM methods and herbs that nourish and moisturize the body, often used for conditions that involve dryness, such as dry cough, dry skin, and dryness of the mouth and throat.


Referring to TCM methods and herbs that provide nourishment and support to specific organs or body systems, often used to address deficiencies and promote overall well-being.


A state that can arise due to an impairment of body fluid metabolism and tends to accumulate leading to a variety of disorders.

External Phlegm or ‘Phlegm with Form’ usually manifests as excessive mucus, often seen in respiratory and digestive disorders.

Internal Phlegm or ‘Phlegm without Form’ does not manifest signs of excessive mucus and may have a variety of different clinical features such as water retention and digestive problems.

Pulse Diagnosis

Assessment of the radial pulse to gather information about the body’s internal state and identify imbalances. Aside from the heart beat rate, this method also looks for the texture, width, strength etc of the pulse, which can reflect different problems related to different Zang-Fus.


Referring to a taste sensation characterized by a sharp, spicy, or strong flavor, which is considered in TCM dietary recommendations and herbal medicine.


Loosely translated as ‘energy’ or ‘life energy’ but this may be misleading. Qi may be described as the driving force behind reverse entropy (negentropy) and evolution towards complexity, life and consciousness. Qi is considered to be at the core of all creation, bringing about constant change and transformation towards order and flourishing.


Qi Gong is a traditional practice in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that combines movement, breath control, and meditation techniques to cultivate and balance Qi. Qi Gong exercises are designed to promote the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body, strengthen the body’s internal organs, and harmonize the mind and body. Regular practice of Qi Gong is believed to stimulate the body’s self-healing abilities, boost the immune system, and enhance vitality. It is often used as a complementary therapy alongside other TCM treatments to support and maintain well-being.


Referring to the act of adjusting and balancing the body’s functions and energy, which is a fundamental principle in TCM diagnosis and treatment.


The process of restoring or renewing youthfulness and vitality, which is a goal in TCM through various approaches such as herbal medicine, acupuncture, and lifestyle adjustments.

Ren mai

Also known as the Conception Vessel, is one of the eight extraordinary meridians. It is an energetic pathway that runs along the midline of the body, starting from the perineum and traveling up the front of the body to the lower lip. The Ren Mai is responsible for regulating the flow of Qi (vital energy) and Blood throughout the body, and it is closely associated with the reproductive and digestive systems. In TCM, the Ren Mai is considered the “sea of Yin” and plays a role in nourishing and supporting the body’s Yin energy. Imbalances in the Ren Mai can result in symptoms such as menstrual irregularities, digestive issues, emotional instability, and reproductive disorders.


Resilience refers to the body’s ability to adapt, recover, and maintain balance in the face of stress, challenges, and changes. It encompasses the body’s capacity to withstand external influences and internal imbalances while remaining in a state of harmony. TCM views resilience as closely tied to the concept of Qi (vital energy) and the body’s innate healing abilities. Factors such as a strong Qi, balanced Yin and Yang energies, and harmonious organ functions contribute to resilience. TCM treatments aim to enhance resilience by promoting the flow of Qi, nourishing the body’s vital substances, and supporting organ health. Lifestyle practices such as stress management, proper nutrition, restful sleep, and regular exercise also play a crucial role in building resilience.


Retention refers to the pathological condition characterized by the accumulation or stagnation of substances, which can be dampness(water), phlegm, Qi, food or other substances/pathogens. These conditions disrupt the normal flow and distribution of Qi (vital energy) and blood, leading to various symptoms and imbalances.


Sedating refers to a therapeutic approach aimed at calming and quieting excessive or hyperactive patterns in the body. It is often used when there is fire, heat, imbalance of Yin and Yang or abnormal flow of Qi.

Shen / Spirit

“Shen” refers to the concept of spirit or consciousness. It represents the highest aspect of human consciousness, encompassing mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Shen is considered to reside in the heart and is closely linked to emotions, mental clarity, and consciousness. When Shen is balanced, it manifests as a calm and peaceful state of mind, clear thinking, and emotional stability. Imbalances in Shen can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, and emotional disturbances.

Small Intestine

Aside from physical functions, the small intestine is associated with the Fire element and is closely related to the heart. Imbalances in the small intestine can manifest symptoms such as abdominal pain, poor digestion, diarrhea, and mental agitation.


Aside from physical functions, the spleen is considered an essential organ responsible for digestion and the transformation of food into Qi (vital energy) and Blood. It is also involved in the distribution of nutrients, blood, fluids and Qi throughout the body. TCM views the spleen as part of the Earth element and closely linked to the digestive system. The most significant result from spleen malfunction is phlegm retention, accompanied with poor digestion, fatigue, bloating, weak muscles, worry or overthinking.


A ‘blockage’ or a ‘build-up’ that hinders free and natural flow of vital substances/information (such as Blood or Qi) within the system.

It leads to a diverse group of disorders and health issues.


Aside from physical functions, the stomach is associated with the Earth element and is closely related to the Spleen organ. TCM views the stomach as the “rotting and ripening” organ, where food is broken down and transformed into usable substances. Imbalances in the stomach can lead to symptoms such as poor appetite, indigestion, bloating, nausea, and emotional disturbances like worry or overthinking. The stomach is considered to be a first priority when treating many diseases, as it is closely related to the recovery of the body.


A form of Qi-Gong that can also be considered a type of martial arts. it combines flowing movements, deep breathing and meditation to promote physical and mental well-being. The style focuses on the Yin and Yang of movements instead of intensity, providing a balanced exercise suitable for a wide range of patients.


Tonifying refers to a therapeutic approach aimed at strengthening and nourishing the body’s vital energies, such as Qi (vital energy), Blood, Yin, or Yang. It involves methods to replenish and support the body’s resources, enhancing overall health and vitality, and is often used in disease that involve the brain or kidneys.


Traditional Chinese Medicine also referred to as Chinese Medicine (as it is continuously developing so it is not fixed in the past). A complex and continually evolving medical system rooted in centuries of Chinese culture and empirical learning, and increasingly accepted in healthcare systems worldwide.

Chinese Medicine relies on various diagnostic tools, theories and therapeutic modalities to identify and address diseases or prevent ill-health, by supporting and strengthening the body’s own ability to repair, restore and heal itself.


A therapeutic form of massage based on Chinese Medicine theory and incorporating pushing, pulling and manipulation.

It’s frequently used, in conjunction with other Chinese Medicine treatment modalities, to address superficial trauma and injury and a wide variety of musculoskeletal and internal conditions.


In TCM, “Water” is one of the five elements, and it represents the characteristics of lubrication, cooling, and downwards. It is closely related to the kidneys, representing the ability of the kidneys to cool the heart for quality sleep. In pathological meanings, water is usually referred to various symptoms that relate to body liquids, for example phlegm, edema, diarrhea, etc.

Wei Qi

Also known as “Guardian Qi”, Wei Qi refers to the defensive or protective energy that serves as a barrier against external pathogens such as cold, wind and heat. It is closely associated with the Lungs and responsible for the body’s immune system and resilience. If Wei Qi becomes deficient, it can lead to increased susceptibility to infections, allergies, and other immune-related disorders.


Wind is considered an external pathogenic factor that can affect the body and cause various health issues, with the characteristic of being “moving” and “unstable”. It is also considered to be the “leader of pathogens” as it can act as a carrier for other pathogenic factors such as cold, heat, dampness, etc, which results in complex syndromes such as wind-cold or wind-heat. Chills, headache, aches and itches are common symptoms closely related to Wind.Yang Qiao Mai

Yang Wei mai

Also known as the Yang Linking Vessel or the Yang Linking Channel, is one of the Eight Extraordinary Meridians. It is considered a deep pathway that connects and regulates the flow of Qi (vital energy) between the twelve regular meridians. The Yang Wei Mai is closely associated with the Triple Burner (San Jiao) and plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance between the upper, middle, and lower regions of the body. It helps to regulate the distribution of Qi and fluids, supporting the body’s defensive energy and promoting overall harmony. Imbalances or blockages in the Yang Wei Mai can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, emotional instability, digestive disorders, and disruptions in the flow of Qi throughout the body.

Yin and Yang

Mutually opposite and interdependent attributes of all phenomena in the natural world. They interact with and transform into one another in harmonious unity.

Together they facilitate ‘balance’, the maintenance of homeostasis within a continually transforming system. Any deficiency or excess might result in disharmony and ill health.

Yin Qiao Mai

Also known as the Yin Motility Vessel or the Yin Qiao Channel, is one of the Eight Extraordinary Meridians. It is considered a deep pathway that regulates the flow of Qi (vital energy) and connects the Yin aspects of the body. The Yin Qiao Mai is closely associated with the Kidney and Lung meridians and plays a vital role in maintaining the balance between the upper and lower regions of the body. It helps to regulate the circulation of Yin energy, nourish the body’s tissues and organs, and support the body’s defensive Qi. Imbalances or blockages in the Yin Qiao Mai can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, weakened immunity, respiratory issues, and hormonal imbalances.

Yin Wei Mai

Also known as the Yin Linking Vessel or the Yin Linking Channel, is one of the Eight Extraordinary Meridians. It is considered a deep pathway that regulates the flow of Qi (vital energy) and connects the Yin aspects of the body. The Yin Wei Mai is closely associated with the Liver and Pericardium meridians and plays a crucial role in maintaining emotional well-being and harmonizing the body’s internal environment. It helps to regulate the flow of blood and Qi in the body’s Yin aspects and supports the nourishment of the organs and tissues. Imbalances or blockages in the Yin Wei Mai can lead to symptoms such as emotional instability, mood disorders, menstrual irregularities, and digestive disturbances.

Yuan Qi

Yuan Qi refers to the Original Qi or the Essence Qi, which is considered the fundamental energy inherited from one’s parents and stored in the Kidneys. It is a precious and vital form of Qi that serves as the basis for growth, development, and reproduction. Yuan Qi is responsible for nourishing and supporting all the body’s organs and tissues, providing the foundation for overall health and vitality. It plays a crucial role in the body’s constitution, lifespan, and the functioning of the reproductive system. The preservation and cultivation of Yuan Qi are considered essential in TCM to maintain health, prevent premature aging, and support longevity.

Zang-Fu Organs or Viscera

Complex and interrelated systems of bodily functions and structures.

Although named after anatomical organs (Heart, Lungs, Liver etc), they do not refer to these anatomical structures alone. Instead, they refer to groups of functions and the structures required to achieve those functions.

They are the main target for Chinese Medicine to influence and affect in order to improve and restore functions essential for good health.

Zheng or Syndromes

Collections of interrelated signs and symptoms arranged into common patterns of illness.

Chinese Medicine practitioners rely on them to formulate a diagnosis and determine treatments to restore balance.